Believe it or not, you're only about 8 weeks from your due date, and this is the perfect time to start practicing relaxation and breathing techniques that you'll use during childbirth. Even if you have already decided to have an epidural or opioids to relieve pain -- or if you change your mind about natural childbirth and ask for pain medication midway through your delivery -- these techniques can help you manage any discomfort you do feel and actively participate in your baby's birth. Use these techniques, in addition to those you learn in childbirth class, to teach yourself to work with your body and make labor easier on yourself and your baby.
These techniques may be especially useful in early labor. If your baby is moving and you haven't broken your water, stay at home for early labor.
Relaxation techniques for early labor. One of the best ways to relax during labor is to learn to isolate different muscle groups in your body. Your uterus must contract to push the baby down and retract the cervix over the baby's head. If other muscles are tight during contractions, you're wasting energy and oxygen. By learning to relax the rest of your muscle groups, you can focus on allowing most of your oxygen to travel to your uterus.
To learn how to relax your body during contractions, work with your partner or labor coach. Prop yourself up against the pillows in your bed or lie on your side. Starting with your toes and moving up toward your head, focus on relaxing each individual set of muscles in your body.
Have your coach issue different commands, one at a time, asking you to contract different muscle groups. For instance, if your coach says, "Contract your left arm," raise that arm and make a fist. Your coach should check to see that the rest of your body is relaxed by lifting different parts of your body. They should feel heavy and loose in his hands. Then have your coach say, "Relax your left arm." You should focus on letting that arm fall slowly until it's heavy enough for him to feel the weight of it in his hands.
The goal here is to learn how to relax your entire body while one muscle contracts. Ideally, during early labor your coach will be able to help you relax your entire body when your uterus is contracting. How long you will be able to keep doing this throughout labor depends on how skilled you are at relaxing your muscles and the type of labor you are having.
No matter what your birth experience, breathing techniques can help make it faster and easier. Practicing them for several weeks before your delivery can delay or eliminate the need for pain medication during childbirth. You will no doubt learn Lamaze or other breathing techniques if you take a childbirth class. Although there are variations, the point of most of these exercises is to teach you to focus your energy and work with your body as your baby makes her way into the world.
Modified paced breathing. In active stage 1 labor -- when your cervix has dilated about 5 centimeters -- the slow, deep breaths of paced breathing may no longer be enough to get you through a contraction. Then it's time to modify your paced breathing to keep up with the pace and intensity of labor. Practice modified paced breathing, starting at least 6 weeks before your delivery date. Doing it daily will help you master conditioned responses to your labor coach's commands:
The point of controlled breathing during transition and second-stage (also called "expulsion") labor is to keep yourself from bearing down and pushing -- no matter how much you might want to -- until the doctor or midwife tells you that your cervix is fully dilated and ready. You'll feel a lot of pressure in your rectum, almost as if you need to move your bowels, and you'll need to use some special breathing to distract yourself from wanting to answer this call to push your baby into the world. This is important because if you push too soon you may have more swelling and tearing of your cervix. Try the following techniques:
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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